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Can Mark Sanchez Handle the Pressure And Deliver Down The Stretch?

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Can Mark Sanchez deliver this weekend in Pittsburgh after two horrific performances?

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Can Mark Sanchez deliver this weekend in Pittsburgh after two horrific performances? (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Jets travel to Pittsburgh this week on the heels of two losses to division foes in consecutive weeks.  After being absolutely crushed on Monday Night Football against the Patriots two weeks ago the Jets continued to stumble, losing to the Dolphins at home 10-6. 

While the entire team failed to do anything productive against the Patriots, the offense's deficiencies were at the forefront last Sunday at the Meadowlands.  The offensive line failed to get any kind of push on rushing plays, including an embrassing stop on a fourth and inches and struggled to provide any discernible pocket for Sanchez to set himself in while Santonio Holmes dropped a touchdown at the end of the first half forcing the Jets to settle for a field goal.

Curiously after the game Rex Ryan took umbrage with his defense's performance which did not sit well with Shaun Ellis and the rest of the defense.

"According to Rex we played [bleepy]," defensive end Shaun Ellis told Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post.   "He said we weren’t good enough. I guess we needed a shutout. I guess that’s what he was talking about."

The Jets defense held the Dolphins to only 131 yards and six first downs.  The only Dolphins touchdown came after Mark Sanchez lost a fumble to set up a short field.  Ryan’s critique reportedly didn’t sit well with defensive players, most of whom bolted out of the locker room quickly.

"It’s frustrating to hear that because we played a solid game," Ellis said. "I guess he just expects so much out of the defense that there should have been zero points on the board, not 10."

I can understand Ellis and other defensive players' frustration after they delivered a performance it would be hard to describe in any way but dominating. 

Make no mistake though the burden of being the No. 5 overall pick two years ago coupled with the Super Bowl expectations this team had after a busy offseason is now being placed firmly on Sanchez' shoulders.  Whether that's fair or not is up for debate, but the pressure is firmly on the Sanchise to deliver this weekend.

What exactly has gone wrong for Sanchez?  Everything really, which seems puzzling until you simply take a look at his numbers throughout the season. 

So far the Jets' record this season against winning teams is 2-4, with one of those wins coming against New England in Week 2 when their defense was still struggling to play cohesively.  Here are Sanchez's numbers game by game this season.

1 BAL L 10-9 10 21 74 47.6 13 0 0 56.4 2 5 2.5 0
2 NE W 28-14 21 30 220 70.0 39 3 0 124.3 4 2 0.5 0
3 @MIA W 31-23 15 28 256 53.6 67 3 0 120.5 1 -1 -1.0 0
4 @BUF W 38-14 14 24 161 58.3 41 2 0 106.4 1 0 0.0 0
5 MIN W 29-20 21 44 191 47.7 31 0 0 59.9 0 0 0.0 0
6 @DEN W 24-20 17 30 198 56.7 41 1 2 60.1 1 -1 -1.0 0
7 Bye Week
8 GB L 9-0 16 38 256 42.1 49 0 2 43.3 2 22 11.0 0
9 @DET W 23-20 (OT) 22 39 336 56.4 74 1 1 82.9 3 1 0.3 1
10 @CLE W 26-20 (OT) 27 44 299 61.4 37 2 1 87.2 2 4 2.0 1
11 HOU W 30-27 22 38 315 57.9 42 3 1 100.2 2 22 11.0 0
12 CIN W 26-10 16 28 166 57.1 23 1 1 71.4 3 -4 -1.3 0
13 @NE L 45-3 17 33 164 51.5 24 0 3 27.8 4 20 5.0 0
14 MIA L 10-6 17 44 216 38.6 42 0 1 45.3 2 20 10.0 0


His poor play is not a recent development, but has been the case all year masked due to the benefit of a soft schedule.  What stands out to me above all other things is how inaccurate he's been all season long.  In only one game this year did he complete over 65% percent of his passes and that was in week 2 against the Patriots and only on one other occasion all season did he complete over 60% of his passes, which was against Cleveland in Week 10. 

The Jets took advantage of a soft middle of the schedule to march to a 9-2 record, but the wins covered up the team's struggles, Sanchez in particular.  During that stretch Sanchez avoided turnovers, easier to do against poor pass defenses than it is when you're being rushed in the pocket and have to make throws into tight windows, but that's what elite quarterbacks do.

In three consecutive weeks against Detroit, Cleveland and Houston the Jets needed two overtime wins and two fourth quarter comebacks to defeat three losing teams.  Elite NFL teams don't struggle against middle of the pack squads and bottom feeder organizations, they punish them and that's something the Jets have struggled to do all season long.  

Sanchez has been awful over the past three weeks and has missed receivers, throwing either in front or behind, too high or too low.  While the pass protection he has received has been mediocre at best, the breakdown in mechanics have been far too noticeable.  In particular last week against the Dolphins as soon as he received the snap he got happy feet bouncing around, not looking downfield or going through his progressions and giving up on plays far too easily without allowing them any time to develop.

The rushing game has been non-existant as well during that time, but that has not been the case throughout the season.  The Jets currently have the No. 6 rushing attack in the league averaging 143.7 yard per game which should help a young quarterback significantly though Sanchez has still struggled

This weekend the Jets travel to Pittsburgh where they will square off against the league 4th overall defense and the 1st ranked rushing defense, allowing only 60.1 yards per game.  The Jets will certainly try to pound the rock early and often, but are unlikely to have success against a defense that has stonewalled all their opponents on the ground.

Again the pressure will be on Sanchez to deliver the goods while he faces a fearsome pass rush led by James Harrison and Lamaar Woodley. 

The question is can he?  At this point in his career the answer seems to be a resounding no, especially given his collapse down the stretch, eerily reminiscent of his performances during the Jets' playoff run last season. 

Unfortunately for the Jets if they lose this weekend the road to the playoffs does not get easier as they head to Chicago to face the Bears and a rejuvenated Julius Peppers who's been giving defenses nightmares this season.  They come home to finish off their season against the Buffalo Bills who are currently 3-10. 

One more win should safely put the Jets in the playoffs, while two would make it a certainty however their reward will be a wild card berth and a slate of road playoff games if they advance.  Last year they captured lightning in a bottle as they advanced to the AFC Championship game with their defense and running game leading the charge. If they want to make some noise in the playoffs this year though, outside of Rex Ryan running his mouth, Mark Sanchez must elevate his game to an elite level which as it stands looks unlikely.